Frustrated Cities Take High-Speed Internet Into Their Own Hands

Cities need to take the lead on building fiber-optic networks because most private broadband providers don't think it's economically worthwhile.

by National Public Radio / March 6, 2014

College Station is right in the middle of Texas — a few hours by car from Austin, Dallas and Houston and home to Texas A&M, a major research university. But if you're in the market for high-speed Internet access, College Station can feel like the middle of nowhere.

"It's been pretty bleak. You get too far from the university, and it's nothing," said Andrew Duggleby, co-founder of Exosent Engineering, a company that designs and builds tanker trucks for the oil industry.
"We're doing three-dimensional computer-aided design, big 3-D models," he said. "So here we are, this super-advanced engineering company, with all these technologies — but then it can't get past the walls."
There is no high-speed Internet access in Exosent's part of College Station, Duggleby said. If he wants to show one of his 3-D models to a client for review, he has to copy the files onto a portable hard drive and put it in the mail.
James Benham, a city councilman in College Station, is worried that high-tech jobs are fleeing to Austin and other cities with faster and cheaper broadband. "We have lost countless companies to other towns because we cannot provide the level and cost of connectivity," Benham said.
Even in central Texas — not exactly a hotbed of activist government — cities are thinking seriously about how to upgrade their broadband infrastructure.
"We have to deliver consistent electricity and water. I think we have to lump [connectivity] in with the critical infrastructure that we at least have an obligation to think about and plan for," Benham said. "The worst thing, I think, a city could do is sit back and do nothing and wait."